2009 Mediterranean Cruise


Assistant Steward Frankie (Susan met him on his first day working for Holland America on the 2008 Grand World Voyage)

October 4 - November 2, 2009

We went on this cruise with some friends from the 2008 Grand World Voyage.  Each port visited or special occasion has its own page.  Additional photos are at https://rovingstones.shutterfly.com/pictures/1862.

Venice, Italy


This cruise started out in a less than stellar way. For starters, while we were driving to the airport in San Antonio it was pouring rain. It had stopped long enough for us to load our car, but there was a huge accumulation of water on the highway, which got into places in the car that made several engine lights come on. We did make it otherwise safely to the airport and had an easy trip through security and on time takeoff. Our landing in Chicago, where we had to change planes (and airlines) was superb - one of those rare ones where you had to figure out that we'd landed. Our flight over the ocean between Chicago and Frankfurt was more than an hour late getting off the ground. We made up some time in the air, but not enough. Our seats were near the back of the huge plane, and when we got to security there were an incredible number of people waiting to get through. By the time we got to our gate, the flight was long gone. Frankfurt airport is spread out over a large area, and we had to walk all the way from our gate (26) to the ticket desk, which was beyond the security area, to get our tickets changed. The clerk kindly gave us a voucher for €15, which was enough to buy us each a sandwich and bottle of water. We had to wait less than three hours for the flight, but the new one was leaving from gate 36. On the overseas flight the lights had come on in the plane cabin about an hour after we finally decided to try to get some sleep, so by the time we did all this walking, hauling our carry on bags and computer, we were wiped out. The flight to Venice was uneventful, but trying to find out what was happening from the Holland America people who were there to meet us, was difficult. We did make it onto a bus that took us to the ship. The first thing we did was take a short nap, because by that time we'd been up for more than 30 hours. At dinner we were surprised to see that our traveling companions had already arrived.

The next morning when we went to breakfast, it was raining, which didn't look promising for walking around the city.  However, by the time we were ready to leave the ship the rain had stopped, and we had beautiful weather for exploring Venice.  We walked from the ship all the way to the Piazza San Marco, with a slight detour to buy Susan a handbag, so she'd have something for formal nights.  A formal purse was the one thing she'd forgotten to pack, which means it had been too long since she'd been on this kind of cruise. We also decided to walk back to the ship.  In retrospect that was not a real smart idea, because we were still tired,we got a bit disoriented, and ended up walking at least five miles round trip.  It was very pleasant to walk through Venice when there weren't huge throngs of tourists, yet we were surprised to see how many tourists were there.  Apparently the recession hasn't completely killed the possibility of travel for many people, a good thing.  While walking we saw an unusual vegetable at one of the outdoor markets (looked like broccoflower with pointy tops), and of course, plenty of Murano glass. We also saw a large, gold colored Bvlgari handbag, with a price tag of €1700!  We can't imagine paying that much for something like that, especially when there's no way Susan would ever carry it if she had it. By the time we got back we were ready for lunch and a relaxing afternoon. We played team trivia (we were disappointed that we didn't win, because the prize was mugs), and of course attended the life boat drill.

There are more photos in the album here.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

                                                         Walled City

October 7, 2009

Our visit to Dubrovnik, Croatia was long awaited. We were supposed to go to Split, Croatia on the 2008  world cruise, but were unable to go ashore due to very rough seas (that port requires us to drop anchor and use tenders to get ashore).  We were blessed to have a beautiful, sunny day, and an excellent guide, Kristina, for our "Cultural Dubrovnik" tour.

The first stop was the old walled city of Dubrovnik.  We entered by crossing over a draw bridge.  The entire city, including the wall, is built of limestone.  The walled city has been designated a UNESCO world heritage site.  One can walk on top of the wall (we didn't have time to try that), and there are many interesting things to see in the city.  The city is protected by its patron saint, St. Vlaho.  One can still find evidence of the 1992-1993 war, known as "The War", when Yugoslavia was splitting into independent states.  We explored a church, a monastery, a cathedral, and a government building.  The town was ruled by a council, and each month a different man would be chosen leader.  For that month the man had to live in the government building ALONE (no wife, no nothing) while he was there.  We'll bet that was interesting!  At the end of our tour of the city we had a little free time for shopping and other sightseeing.  All the travel souvenirs we brought back came from here, because we felt like it would be the most exotic and appealing place to have gifts from.

After a brief photo stop along the coast, our next stop was Cavtat (pronounced Sov-tot), the old Dubrovnik seaport, which is now a resort.  We had a little bit of a guided tour, plus a little time to shop again.  The waterfront area was very pleasant.  We had to pay to use the restrooms, but they were very clean, and not too expensive.

Finally we headed out to Konavle province, where we would be visiting a farm where they produce their own wine and olive oil. We had been told we'd have lunch on the trip, and it turned out that lunch would be around 3PM, the last part of the trip. Needless to say there were some people who were very upset about that.  We have to agree that it would have been nice to know that beforehand.  Along the drive we saw the strange looking building that looks like a windmill without blades.  It is a ham smoker.  We also learned that in the rural areas, when a son gets married, the family builds a new house onto the old one, so the family ends up living in what looks like a row house on their farm.  Finally we arrived at Kuca Glavic, and were greeted by the family, and live music.  We were first treated to local figs and a shot of raisin brandy (very strong).  This was followed by a tour of the winery and olive oil press, and then lunch.  The lunch included some of their red wine (which was quite nice), home made bread, sausage, potato salad, and tomato salad.   While we ate we listened to the two folk musicians (a group called Klapa Astral), who played accordian and guitar, and also sang.  They were really good, and they made the lunch even more enjoyable with their good harmony and upbeat music.  We bought a small bottle of the Kuca Glavic olive oil, and a small framed embroidery (they do beautiful embroidery work) as souvenirs.

By the time we got back to the ship, it was time to dress for dinner.  Needless to say, we weren't very hungry, so ate a light dinner.  This was an altogether enjoyable day.  Dubrovnik, or anywhere else in Croatia, is on our list of places we'd like to return to.

There are additional photos here in the album.

                                                                Klapa Astral

Kekira, Corfu, Greece

                                                               Kekira, Corfu, Greece

October 8, 2009

Today we arrived at Corfu, a Greek island that is new to us.  The initial view was beautiful, as expected.  Our tour took us first to Achillion Palace, built by the Empress Elizabeth (also known as Sissi), wife of Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph.  She spent a lot of time estranged from her husband, was not allowed to raise her older children, and so, did a lot of traveling. She fell in love with the island of Corfu, and there built a palace that was dedicated to Achilles. She retreated there after the unexpected death of her son, Rudolf, apparently a suicide.  The palace was later bought by Kaiser Wilhelm II.  The painting of him is unusual, as it shows both hands.  Most of his portraits show only the right hand, because the left one was deformed.

The grounds of the palace are extensive and beautiful, as are the views from the gardens.  The interior of the palace is very  ornate (you can find better photos than we were able to take if you Google Achillion Palace).  Our next stop was Kanoni, supposedly a place where the French had left a canon - if they did we never saw it, just some nice views, including Mouse Island, named for its shape.

On our drive back to Kekira we passed some Roman ruins.  When we left the bus, we walked past the monument to the Ionian Islands.  The bus had stopped near the old fort, so we had a good view of it.  We walked around the town a little bit, and saw the church of St. Spirion, the patron saint of Corfu.  After that we had some free time for shopping before heading back to the ship.  We weren't interested in souvenirs, but we did findsome Mythos beer, which was quite pleasant.

While we enjoyed our tour, Corfu was not as interesting or as beautiful as the other Greek islands we've been to.

You can find more photos of our experience here in this album.

                                                             Achilles Sculpture

Argostoli, Cephalonia, Greece

                                                                             Myrtos Beach

October 9, 2009

Cephalonia (Kefalonia) is a beautiful island.  Some have said that while Corfu has all the history, Cephalonia has all the beauty.  We would have to agree with that.  Not that Corfu is ugly, but it just does not have the outstanding beauty of Cephalonia.  One of the nice things about Cephalonia is that the port area is very well kept and pleasant.

Our tour took us first to the Drogarati Cave, which was a great disappointment.  The problem is that it has not been well maintained and there is no one in the cave to supervise what people are doing.  Many of the people who go in touch everything in sight, totally ignoring signs that tell them not to touch.  It might be an interesting cave if you have never been to Carlsbad Caverns, or even the cave at Halong Bay, Vietnam, which is a dead cave (no new growth or formations).  For us, the kittens playing outside were more interesting.  It was sad to see the cave in such poor condition.  

Melissani Lake was a better experience.  The lake is underground in a cave but part of the roof caved in so it is now about half open to the sky.  We walked down a ramp to the water’s edge where we boarded a boat, which a well-muscled young man rowed around the lake while telling us about the lake.  The interesting thing about this lake is that it took a very long time to figure out where the water was coming from.  Apparently there is a ‘swallow hole’ (the opposite of a blow hole) on the other side of the island, and the water in the lake comes from that swallow hole.  That means the water is brackish, since the sea water is added to whatever fresh water the lake gets.

The drive around the island was beautiful.  The island is quite mountainous, as well as green.  We had a short photo stop at Myrtos Beach, which was gorgeous with its incredibly blue water.  The mountains drop straight into the ocean over much of the island, and the road is carved into the side of the mountain.  It is amazing to see trees growing on such steep terrain.  

We are not sure we’d want to go back to Cephalonia unless we could find something of interest to do there, apart from the cave and the underground lake.  However, it’s definitely worth a visit if you’ve never been there before.   

There are more photos here.                 

                                                                  Argostoli Port Area

Filipino Crew Show

October 9, 2009

One of the reasons we enjoy cruises on Holland America Line so much, is the crew.  Most of them are either from the Philippines or from Indonesia. On a shorter cruise you will see either a Filipino show or an Indonesian show. On longer cruises, one can see both.  These shows are always a treat, even though they do the same basic show each time.  There are always individual touches, and different singers who do different songs each time. Attending the show is a really good way to support the crew. 

One of the fun things about this particular show is that our wine steward, Teofilo, who was in two of the dances, handed out AUTOGRAPHED programs in the dining room before the show.  He wanted to make sure that we remembered that he was THE STAR!!  

The amazing thing about the crew shows is that they are always done at 11 PM, the crew is done with their long workday.  Even so, they have fun and do a great job! For us the shows never get old, and we highly recommend them.  There are more photos in this album.

Bamboo Dance

Santorini, Greece


October 10, 2009

Ah, Santorini!  Susan’s experience: the first time she was here, it was okay.  The second time she was here, it was okay.  Third time - it felt like home.  The beauty of this island had begun to sink in.  

The island of Thira, which is the one every one visits, is very dry, which means that there are very few trees present.  But it is a thriving island, with wineries as well as the tourism industry.  Oia Village (pronounced EEE-A), is incredibly picturesque; it is the quintessential personification of the Cyclades group of Greek islands, of which Santorini is a part.  We walked to the far end of the village, and then came back to explore the ruins of the old castle, which we believe was built by the Venetians.  

From Oia, we proceeded to the nearby Domaine Sigalas, a winery Food & Wine Magazine recommended.  We got to sample two of their white wines and their sweet red - a dessert wine - that was wonderful.  On Santorini, the grape vines are mostly grown in a basket shape, which keeps the leaves close to the ground where they can absorb the dew; the basket also acts to protect the developing grapes from the winds that frequent the island.

The last stop on our tour was in Fira Town, the main town on the island of Thira.  Here we went to the Nomikos Foundation, which documents the former town of Akrotiri, built my the Minoans, and buried under volcanic ash.  Apparently the ruins are even better preserved than the ones at Pompeii, even though this village was destroyed 1500 years before Pompeii was.  The major exhibit is reproductions of frescoes taken from the village.  Those frescoes are incredibly beautiful.  The Minoans were very advanced in their amenities of civilization:  they had multi-story buildings as well as an elaborate drainage system.  It would be very interesting to visit the actual archeological site.

When we finished at the Nomikos Foundation, we were on our own, to wander around or go back to the ship.  We decided to have dinner in town, because it was a unique opportunity to enjoy gyros (our favorite) while in Greece.  We had a Greek salad with that, and Mythos beer (of course!).  We then headed for the cable car, which took us down to the dock where we could catch the tender back to the ship.  We had a very enjoyable day with perfect weather.   It would be great to visit again, just to absorb the beauty and peace of the island.

There are additional photos here.

                                                                  Fresco from Akrotiri

Catania, Sicily, Italy

October 12, 2009

Our next stop on this journey was Catania, on the island of Sicily.  The town’s most famous citizen was Vincenzo Bellini, composer of several beautiful operas.  Our tour took us through the town, to our destination of Taormina, a very old village located high on a mountain, within view of Mount Etna, which as you can see from the photo, is still active.  Taormina is very beautiful.  It’s definitely a tourist destination, but that doesn’t spoil it.  We walked through the town, stopping at a church, and the visitor center.

From there we went to the greatest attraction of the town, the Greco-Roman theater.  When the Greeks built the theater, they built it so that the incredible view could be appreciated by the theater patrons.  When the Romans took over, the first thing they did was to block the view, so the patrons would have to pay attention to whatever it was they were doing theatrically.  Most of the marble has been stripped from this theater, but that doesn’t harm it any, at least in my book.  I’ve seen many Roman ruins where the marble was intact, and while they were beautiful, this theater has a more down-to -earth quality to it, due to the absence of the marble.

When we came back into Catania we drove by the statue of Vincenzo Bellini, the opera composer.  We also drove past the remains of a Roman amphitheater - it was amazing to see it right in the middle of town.

If you have a chance to get to Taormina, it is definitely worth a visit.

There are a few more photos here.

                                                                                Mt. Aetna

Pompeii, Italy (Naples)

October 13, 2009

Returning to Pompeii was a real treat.  The detail of what has been uncovered is amazing.  One of the most interesting things was seeing the chariot ruts etched into the solid stone pavement.

The chariots must have been heavy, and there must have been a lot of traffic on these streets.  Our tour took us through the hotel which served as a brothel, which had pornographic frescoes which are quite well preserved.  We also saw the tribunal, the temple, and the forum, or town square.  The last has a major exhibit of artifacts found at the site - all sorts of pottery PLUS casts of several people and a dog that died under the ash when the city was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.  Apparently most of the people had left the city after being warned that the volcano was about to erupt, but a few didn’t, and we can now see how awful it must have been to die that way.  The last photo is of what we were told was a fast food restaurant, of the type they had back then.  We also learned that apparently many people in the city had problems with lead poisoning.  They had piped water in the city, but those pipes were made of lead.  Took us a long time to learn, didn’t it?

For us, Pompeii will remain a place we want to return to.  So much has been accomplished there since our previous visits, and the work continues, so there will always be something new to see.  It is interesting to Susan to compare Pompeii with Ephesus (in Turkey, which Harry has not seen).  What we saw in the latter was lots of public buildings, and there was little evidence of what the homes were like (at least on the tour I took).  It is huge, so you get a feeling for the size of the city, but in Pompeii you can see how people lived there.  The estimated size of Pompeii in AD 79, when Vesuvius last destroyed it was about 20,000.  This is at least 200,000 population smaller than Ephesus.  Maybe that’s why it’s easier to see how people lived in the city.

Pompeii is a must see when visiting in the Naples area.  

                                                          Pompeiian Fast Food Restaurant

Civitavecchia, Italy

October 14, 2009

Civitavecchia, from a tourism standpoint, is mostly the port closest to the great city of Rome.  It is both old and new, a modern city with old buildings, and many ruins from the past.  There is a beautiful old fort there, (Forte Michelangelo, completed in 1535) which is now used as the coast guard barracks.  We have both been to Rome fairly recently, and more than once before, so we opted to forgo the two hour ride into Rome, and instead roam around Civitavecchia (yes, we said that on purpose).  There’s certainly more to see than what we saw, but we enjoyed our time there.  We encountered a couple of parks, which were quite pleasant.  We also enjoyed seeing the ruins from the Roman empire (photo above).

Our explorations were mostly in the harbor area.  There were some fishing boats piled with nets; one man was working to straighten some out.  It was interesting to watch.

At least on Holland America cruises, all the shore excursions are about Rome.  So if you don’t want to go to Rome, you’ll be on your own to see Civitavecchia.

There are a few additional photos in this album.

© Susan L. Stone 2015                   rovingstones@me.com